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Doctor Who - The Pilot & Smile - Review: "A breath of fresh air"

© BBC Pictures
Episode: 10.01 "The Pilot"
Directed by: Lawrence Gough
Written by: Steven Moffat
Air date: 15 April 2017

It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve last seen the Doctor. But it soon becomes clear, it hasn’t been nearly as long as it was for him. After his last adventure with River we’re introduced to the Doctor in a new place and life entirely. What’s truly different is how this feels almost like a home for him, or at least as close to a home as the Doctor gets – a constant. In a conversation with a new companion (!) named Bill, it’s revealed that our hero spent the past few decades working as a Professor. A teacher of… well, pretty much everything. Seems that the university allows him to teach the students anything he chooses to. Quite an unexpected, yet a fitting concept. It took only a few minutes of the introduction to convince me it might be one of the best “undercover” life we’ve seen the Doctor in. As a teacher sharing his knowledge and love for life and adventure. Who wouldn’t want to show up on his lectures?

For reasons yet not known the Doctor made a promise to stay in this one place and guard a vault. There’s quite a number of questions regarding that. A promise made to whom? What’s in the vault? Why? And so many others. For now we just know it’s important and the Doctor is accompanied by Nardole who serves as not only the support for the Time Lord but also seems to make sure the Doctor keeps his promise. Interesting. Very much excited to learn about the story behind that.

Without further ado, let’s talk about Bill Potts. First of all, her name is a lovely tribute to the first Doctor and his portrayer. As for the character, it’s only the beginning of her story of course, so things are bound to change and evolve but for now I can certainly say I really like Bill. She’s like a breath of fresh air amidst darkness in the story. She seems ready for adventure, bright and happy, without the heavy weight of the world and loss on her shoulders. Bill’s introduction already makes her a great choice for the Doctor’s new companion, and more importantly, a friend. She’s bold, clever, not afraid to speak up, but not too confident and above all, she’s a good person, hopeful and ready to take on the world. Makes me think about the Doctor’s words, “I never know why, I only know who.” And it feels right. The Doctor meets so many people during his travels but you can truly see the difference with his closest friends. It’s not because they’re the most special people in the universe. Every single life has its value and meaning. But the companions are always the right people for the Doctor. The ones he simply needs the most, to help take care of all the stars in the universe.

Bill Potts made quite an impression on the viewers even before the episode aired. The character being revealed as gay started quite a long discussion on the internet and a number of articles on why it matters. Honestly, I didn’t quite consider it to be such an unexpected, earth shattering reveal. Remember Captain Jack? Madame Vastra and Jenny? Quite the stories they had. I hope the focus of the fans and their opinion on the character will be grounded on who she is and not the people she’s attracted to. There’s all kind of stories to tell on the show and now Bill’s a part of this wonderful, impossible world.

Now, about the story that leads Bill to travel with the Doctor. There’s a girl named Heather, a girl who couldn’t quite find her home anywhere and was taken to become a pilot of the alien spaceship. And not just any pilot. The kind that can turn into water and get to the TARDIS anywhere and anytime in a matter of minutes. Or rather, get to Bill. Never underestimate a power of a crush. It’s a simple thing, really. But under these circumstances, with Heather fading away and holding on to her last powerful memory, a promise not to leave Bill behind, their connection becomes so much more. I did wonder for a while whether it was the best decision to make Heather almost a stranger to Bill. They did barely meet after all, and it’s clear how much more powerful the story would be if their relationship was more evolved than that. In the end I think it was a good way to start. While the story on its own, and Bill’s wish to find Heather once again in the future, might probably work better on more solid grounds (of their connection), it would certainly introduce us to a different Bill. And there’s just so many stories to tell before we should see her like that.

And finally… Bill’s name is not the only reference used in the season premiere. There’s quite a few of them and I have to admit I do love these little additions. They have a way of grounding the show and make us remember some of the good old times. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to watch the Classic Who other than the very first episode of the series so I only notice about half of these references when watching the hour. However, thanks to all the dedicated and knowledgeable fans out there, I get to learn a little bit more of the Doctor’s story with each new callback. And I couldn’t be more glad about that. Just to mention the few things and people that made a return in this premiere – there’s a picture of River and Susan (probably for the first time in New Who!), Clara’s theme, memory loss (Donna!), a dinner lady serving chips (Rose!) and all the sonic screwdrivers we could wish for. I don’t think I quite realized how much I missed the show until I’ve seen all these. Doctor Who is such a brilliant series to watch and watch again. With all the memories it’s always a good time for a re-watch.

To sum up, it was a great introduction to the new regular character. Bill already seems like a good match for the Doctor and I’m very much excited to see the adventures ahead of them. We also already get a glimpse of this season's mystery plot with the locked vault that has to be guarded by the Doctor. Let the theories begin!

© BBC Pictures
Episode: 10.02 "Smile"
Directed by: Lawrence Gough
Written by: Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Air date: 22 April 2017

Now, to the second episode. Let me start right away by saying, I enjoyed the premiere much more. Not because the second hour was a bad episode but I simply didn’t find it to be a very memorable one. It’s quite a standard “alien of the week” story for me and other than introducing Bill to the Doctor’s world I don’t think it added much to the series overall. It was a good standalone, though. Just a few words to say this time.

When the Earth is forced to evacuate people plan ahead and prepare a new planet, a new world to live. And since it’s people, they focus on the technology to assure their survival. More specifically, they use the nanobots, called the Vardy, who build and become this brand new world, working with a small pre-colony crew to prepare for rest of the population to enter their new home. Things go terribly wrong, though. Since the Vardy are not familiar with all the human concepts, like in this case - grief, their desire to keep people happy leads to quite a massacre. Just trying to serve their purpose the nanobots kill the entire pre-colony crew and soon after the Doctor and Bill arrive and find what’s left of the bodies. It’s another story of how a misunderstanding and a wrong choice can lead to a real tragedy and change the fate of world.

For the Doctor and Bill it’s a chance to get to truly know each other outside of their teacher-student dynamics. And they share quite a few fun and clever moments. Bill’s reaction when she learns of the Doctor’s two hearts is certainly a memorable one. I did like how she understood who he is without knowing. Though understandably scared she took one look at the TARDIS and what’s written on the door, and she ran back to the Doctor, into the lion’s den. And only together they discovered and resolved the situation without losing another life. There’s even a moment where Bill explains the Doctor to the encountered people and she feels like a companion already.

Quick note about the nanobots. Not sure about you but those definitely made me think twice about the emoticons. Doctor Who has a way of doing that with anything. Remember back when the statues and shadows seemed harmless? Those were the days. It’s a fun idea to play around for sure. And the Doctor’s comments, about people’s love for emoticons and his general expressions at the internet, WiFi and social media (in the earlier seasons), are always quite funny to watch and quote. Such a little thing but makes me want to say: same old Doctor. Good to have him back. In the next episode we’re going to be visiting the past and it seems that Bill’s questions are starting. Sounds about right. Excited to see more of Bill and the Doctor. So far their relationship works well and I continue to enjoy Bill’s character. Kudos!

Whovian notes and questions:
1. About the vault. My best guess for now would be the Master. After seeing the news of his return I’m so excited for this reveal. The promise, though, would love to know how and why it happened. Any other theories, what do you think is in the vault?
2. Favorite callback in the episode? Quite impossible to choose but at the moment I think memory of Donna losing her adventures with the Doctor hit me the most. Oh, how I miss Donna and Ten!
3. Absolutely loved the Doctor taking these pictures of Bill’s mom. His care for people is always a joy to watch. Such a little thing but means the world. I wonder when/if Bill’s gonna ask him about that.
4. Emoticons, shadows, statues – what’s next? What other ordinary thing would you like to see from Doctor Who’s perspective?
5. What do you think of Bill so far? Any place or circumstances you'd like to see her in? Any thoughts on the Doctor-Bill dynamics?

Memorable quotes:
1. Bill: "Look at this place! It's like a..."
The Doctor: "Spaceship?"
Bill: "Kitchen!"
The Doctor: "A what?"
Bill: "A really posh kitchen, all metal. What happened to the doors, though? Did you run out of money?"
2. Bill: "What changed your mind?"
The Doctor: "Time."
Bill: "Time?"
The Doctor: "And Relative Dimension In Space. It means, “What the hell?”."
3. Bill: "Doesn’t make sense then!"
The Doctor: "What doesn’t?"
Bill: "“TARDIS”! If you’re from another planet, why would you name the box in English? Those initials wouldn’t *work* in any other language!"
The Doctor: "People don’t generally bring *that* up."
4. Bill: "Where are you going?"
The Doctor: "No idea. But if I look purposeful, they’ll think I’ve got a plan. If they think I’ve got a plan, at least they won’t try to think of a plan themselves!"
5. Bill: "You don’t call the helpline because you *are* the helpline."

What did you think about "The Pilot" and "Smile"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. Check out the trailer and episode info for the next episode "Thin Ice". As always, thanks for reading!

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